Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), celebrated each year on the Hebrew calendar date of Iyar 28 (May 12, this year), is a national holiday commemorating Israel’s 1967 liberation of Judaism’s holy sites and Jerusalem’s subsequent reunification. This year international condemnation of Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem has intensified, fueled by familiar Arab denials of any Jewish claim to Jerusalem, and very likely also by a new U.S. approach toward the conflict and media reports that characterize Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem as settlements on occupied “Palestinian land.”
Indeed, until 1948, Jerusalem, like today, was an undivided city where people of all faiths visited, lived and worshipped. It was only during Jordan’s 19-year occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948-67) that these freedoms were ended. Jewish synagogues were desecrated, vandalized and destroyed and Jews were denied access to their holiest sites in violation of the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Agreement. Christian churches were prohibited from buying property in eastern Jerusalem and Christian schools there were subject to strict controls, as well. Jordan’s 1950 annexation of eastern Jerusalem—with its curtailment of freedoms—was deemed illegal by the international community, recognized by Pakistan alone. (Great Britain recognized Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank, but not of eastern Jerusalem.)
By contrast, when Israel gained control of the area in 1967 as a result of its self-defensive war with Jordan, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol immediately met with the spiritual leaders of different faiths in his office and issued a declaration of peace, assuring them that holy sites of all faiths would be protected and accessible. Defense Minister Dayan ceded internal administrative control of the Temple Mount compound to the Waqf (Islamic trust) while overall security control of the area was maintained by Israel. And the Knesset passed the Protection of Holy Places Law granting special legal status to the Holy Sites and making it a criminal offence to desecrate or violate them. Thus religious freedoms which had been unheard of during the Jordanian occupation of the city were now enjoyed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, prompting even a former Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations, Adnan Abu Odeh, to acknowledge that “the situation in Jerusalem prior to 1967 [under Jordanian rule] was one of … religious exclusion” whereas post-1967, Israel seeks “to reach a point of religious inclusion …” (The Catholic University of America Law Review, Spring 1996).
But despite these peaceful overtures and laws protecting holy places, Arab religious leaders, politicians and educators began to marshal the religious fervor of the Muslim world by denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and — following the example of the Arab leader in pre-State Palestine, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini — by calling for violent rioting to defend Islam’s holy sites from Jews.
These efforts only increased during negotiations over Jerusalem and its holy sites and have helped undermine the prospect of a final settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to chief U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat raised only one idea at the Camp David talks in 2000 — he denied the core of the Jewish faith by claiming that the Temple had never existed in Jerusalem, but in Nablus. He later went further to allege that not only had the Jewish Temple never existed in Jerusalem, but it had never existed in any of Palestine.
Current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already gone on record denying the Jewish connection to its holiest site, the Temple Mount:
I challenge the assertion that this is so [that there has ever been a Jewish Temple}. But even if it is so, we do not accept it, because it is not logical for someone who wants a practical peace. (Kul Al-Arab (Israel), August 25, 2000; Translation: MEMRI)
Ikrima Sabri, former Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem and currently the head of the Higher Islamic Committee, repeatedly insists that Jews have no connection to any part of the Temple Mount, including the Western Wall. He has proclaimed that the “Al-Buraq Wall [Western Wall] and its plaza are a Muslim religious property…part of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it..” (Al Ayam, Nov. 22, 1997)
and, in a German daily:
There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish Temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history… The Jews cannot legitimately claim [the Western] wall, neither religiously nor historically…. [Die Welt, January 17, 2001]
The Palestinian Authority’s chief Islamic judge, Tayseer Tamimi, also publicly denied Jewish heritage in Jerusalem in a 2009 television interview.
I know of Muslim and Christian holy sites in [Jerusalem]. I don’t know of any Jewish holy sites in it… Israel has been excavating since 1967 in search of remains of their Temple or their fictitious Jewish history.
Turning truth on its head, he charges Jews with falsely converting the “Al Buraq” wall into a Jewish site.
When the Prophet [Muhammad] entered Jerusalem, after landing with his ‘riding animal’ in the Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, he tied it to the western wall, which is known today [by Muslims] as the al-Buraq Wall, and which the Jews usurped by falsification and deception [saying it is the Western Wall of the Temple].
And, like Haj Amin al Husseini and other Palestinian leaders, he accuses Israel of trying to destroy Muslim holy sites:
The [Israeli] excavations’ purpose is to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, its foundations have been removed. Chemical acids were injected into the rocks to dissolve them. The soil and the pillars [were moved] so the mosque is hanging in midair. There is an Israeli plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to build the Temple.
As the current U.S. administration attempts to push forward Arab-Israeli negotiations, these sorts of absurd accusations and denials of a Jewish connection to Jerusalem will probably increase. Just recently, in March, rioting in Jerusalem was instigated by Palestinian leaders following Israel’s opening of the rebuilt Jewish Quarter’s Hurva Synagogue for the first time since Jordan had destroyed it in 1948. Hatem Abdel Qader, advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah’s minister for Jerusalem affairs warned that the re-opening of the Hurva synagogue would be “a prelude to violence and religious fanaticism and extremism” — not just by “Jewish extremists” but by “members of the Israeli government.”
And senior Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called upon Palestinians to take to the streets. In a speech broadcast from Damascaus, he said:.
We warn against this action by the Zionist enemy to rebuild and dedicate the Hurva synagogue. It signifies the destruction of al-Aqsa mosque and the building of the Temple
He also called the re-dedication ceremony “a falsification of history and Jerusalem’s religious and historic monuments.”
Allthough the synagogue is nowhere near the Al Aqsa mosque and does not threaten Arab holy sites in any way, the very act of rebuilding a synagogue that was torn down by Arabs is considered a provocation. So is Jewish building and habitation in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.